The Black Spectacles by John Dickson Carr (1939)

Marcus Chesney has long contended that “ninety-nine people out of a hundred, as witnesses, are just plain lousy”. When poisoned chocolates bought from the local village kill a young boy he decides to put his theory to the test.

His niece Marjorie, her fiancé George, and colleague Professor Ingram, all insist that they will be able to correctly describe his performance but when later questioned by police all have very different recollections of what happened.

It is the police who end up asking Marcus’ prepared questions as during the test someone dressed like H. G. Wells’ Invisible Man forced Chesney to swallow a green capsule and shortly after his curtain call he died.

DI Elliot, already in the area to investigate the original murder, takes charge of this case, and quickly calls in Gideon Fell, who was a friend of the dead man. Both men have more knowledge of the case than they first admit but even armed with this it needs to looked at several times before the spectacles can be removed and the full picture can be seen clearly.

Each of the four sections is headed by a quote by or about a historical poisoner and Dr Fell gives a lecture on The Poisoner before revealing the truth.

The hook of murder in full view of an audience is great and is then worked out well to provide an unexpected but very unpleasant killer. Carr has definitely become my new second-favourite GAD author. Roll on The Case of the Constant Suicides. Regardless of who the author is, you’d have to give it a go based on the title alone.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils, even under its alternative title “The Problem of the Green Capsule”, “What – Colour in the title”.




5 thoughts on “The Black Spectacles by John Dickson Carr (1939)”

  1. This was my favorite Carr, after Judas Window. I read it 40 years ago, so mostly forget it, which makes it so desirable as a reread … (I wish I could find a copy! But I know where in Ontario one lurks so when I am in the area …)


  2. Growing up, I remember judging the Carrs I collected by the quality of their covers, and Green Capsule, along with The Problem of the Wire Cage, The Sleeping Sphinx, and a couple others came wrapped in cheaper, less interesting covers than titles like Crooked Hinge and The Mad Hatter Mystery. Thus I thought this was considered to be one of the “lesser” Carrs. Rereading TGC as a big boy, I discovered how wonderful it truly is. Yes, the shooting in the car is extraneous, but the main crime and the background of the village poisoner equal Carr at his best.

    Soooooo . . . I guess you can’t judge a boo- oh, I can’t say it. I can’t say it!!


  3. Carr has so many high quality books that it makes it difficult to pick a favorite, but this is it for me. The scene in which the crime is committed is incredibly creepy, and I love the puzzle of how each witness could provide a different account of what happened right before their eyes. Plus, the entire poison lecture/history is fascinating and a preview of what would come later in Carr’s historical novels.


    1. Well I guessed that you would have liked it. I prefer The Black Spectacles as a title as it is consistent with the sections of the book but The Green Capsule makes for a better blog name.


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